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first war of independence

"The first war of Indian independence," as it is called by some, was the first step in a long struggle for independence by the people of India. The reasons for war in India started many years before it began. There were three key events that triggered the war. The first event occurred when the leaders of the "John Company" or, East India Trade Co., began to loose touch with the native soldiers who were called Sepoys. The Second event was religion. The crusaders from God, out to save the "savage" Indian people, built missions and tried to spread Christianity but created turmoil instead. Thirdly the war needed a spark. It came in the form of a new rifle cartridge issued by the East India Trade Co. The war began in mid 1857 with the 3rd light Calvary refusing to take orders. In this essay these key events will be laid out in the events of the war more commonly known as "The Sepoy Mutiny of 1857."

Some historians have blamed the British officers lose of touch with the Sepoys on the invention of the steam ship. The steam ship could go to and from India much faster thus making it possible for the British officers to go home on leave during their tour of duty in India without being gone too long. It also made it possible for the officer’s family to come and stay with him on visits or live in India permanently. These were significant changes. Before the steam ship was invented the officers, by default, would spend most of their time with the Sepoys or their Indian mistresses. As the British officers and the natives grew further apart, there was less trust and more tension between them. This tension frequently escalated into anger with many of the natives. As tension mounted, the less sensitive British started letting missionaries in whose only goal was to save the savage people from themselves through Christianity. This angered many of the religious leaders and their followers. This created even more tension and anger between the British and the natives.

Then in late 1856 and early 1857 an old prophecy reemerged that said on the 100th anniversary of the battle of Plassey (1757) the rule of the "John Company" would end. The prophecy was secretly passed from company to company in the form of a loaf of bread. All the Sepoys needed after word of this prophecy was a spark. It came in the form of a new rifle cartridge issued by the company. For the rifle issued by the company, the cartridge contained both the gunpowder and ball. All that was needed to be done was to bite the end off the cartridge and shove it down the barrel of the gun. To make this ramming process easier the cartridge was covered with grease, usually animal fat. The new cartridge issued by the company was greased by both cow and pig fat. The cow, which is sacred to the Hindus, and the pig, which a Muslims is forbidden to eat, made it so the new cartridge offended nearly every one of the native soldiers. The company soon realized the mistake but it was too late. An isolated act of mutiny, which involved this cartridge, occurred on March 19, 1857. A man by the name of Mangle Pande of the 34th regiment suddenly became hysterical and yelled to the British officers that they were making him go against his religion. He killed nearly every British officer he saw including his platoon officer. The general who was in charge heard the commotion Pande was creating and went with his two sons to see what was going on. The sight of the general frightened Pande and he tried to kill himself but failed. On April 8 of that same year he was hanged for attempted mutiny. After this the already controversial 34th regiment was disbanded. News spread quickly of the man who fought back against the British and on May 10, 1857 a full mutiny broke out starting with the 3rd light Calvary and spreading to regiments at Kanpur, Lucknow and other army bases in northern India.

At the end of the day the Sepoys had taken Delhi, murdered every English man woman and child they could lay their hands on and appointed the Mughul Emperor as their leader. The revolt had begun, and the Sepoy soldiers outnumbered the British 257,000 to 34,000 or nearly 8 to 1. With numbers like these all the British could do for the first couple of months was try to ward off any Sepoy attack and wait until reinforcements arrived from Britain. When the reinforcements finally arrived their first goal was to retake Delhi. It took several attempts and a few thousand men but they finally recaptured the city. Once the British had control of Delhi they forced a large number of the Sepoy soldiers to run. The British pursued. "The British armies which swept across the north of India to relieve their besieged comrades and avenge their murdered compatriots were perhaps the most enraged and cruelest troops ever to have been put in the field by the government and people of Britain." After several months of combat Britain recaptured northern India.

The mutiny lagged on for nearly two years but was really settled in a span of six months of bloody warfare. When the dust finally settled, the East India Trade Co. no longer ran India, the British Crown had taken over. To ensure no more blood shed the British crown agreed not to further pursue the expansion of India and agreed not to enslave the Indian people any more than they had. However all of the mutineers were brutally executed. This ended the 200-year reign of the East India Trade Co. and began what would be the quest of the Indian people for their own independent state.

Courtesy --- LAKSHMI

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